Off-Broadway Review: “Ben, Virginia and Me” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row

Off-Broadway Review: “Ben, Virginia and Me: The Liberace Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Sunday August 6, 2017)
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Music and Lyrics by Barbara Carole Sickmen
Directed and Choreographed by Paul A. Stancato
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There have been several media depicting the life of the famed piano virtuoso Liberace; including, novels, documentaries, film, television, interviews and now, following the attempted effort of the stage musical “All That Glitters,” comes “Ben, Virginia and Me: The Liberace Musical” currently running as part of the NYMF Festival. This endeavor concentrates mainly on the relationship between the celebrated showman, Ben Siegel (Eric Briarley) a gangster better known as “Bugsy Malone” who is part of the Jewish Mafia and his moll Virginia Hill (Haley Hannah). Those fans of the musical prodigy, turned flamboyant entertainer, might find a portion of this production interesting but the book does tend to divert its attention to his acquaintances rather than focus on his obscure personal life. The audience is guided through the storyline by the narrator Cassandra (William Connor), a columnist for the British newspaper “The Mirror,” who defamed and practically outed Liberace after his command performance for Queen Elizabeth II.

The narrative starts at childhood in West Allis, Wisconsin, follows him to New York, Las Vegas, London, Palm Springs, and finally back to New York. The time travel takes some liberties and adds an element of confusion to the book. Considering his forte, there is not much piano playing here but a bow to his extravagance and outrageous costumes which coined the phrase “Too Much Is Never Enough” the title of a musical number that ends the first act and is reprised for the finale. One distraction that takes center stage once in Las Vegas is the legendary ostentatious Sophie Tucker (Janet Aldrich) who shines in “The Yellow Canary Diamond,” complete with showgirls in sequins and feathers. There is an outstanding ballad “Beautiful Man” passionately delivered by Liberace (Samuel Floyd) after he is informed that presumed lover, Rock Hudson has died.

This is an old fashioned musical that theatergoers never seem to tire of given the constant rash of classic revivals each season. There is nothing wrong with that formula but this production is lacking some of the key elements usually found in that successful format, mainly a love interest, a dramatic climax, and a victim of circumstance which elevate an emotional investment. The book by Roger O. Hirson needs a better focus and more detail. Barbara Carole Sickmen’s music is pleasurable but a bit derivative and lyrics have sporadic success at moving the plot forward. Director Paul Stancato provides some generic choreography and moves the action along at a steady pace.

This is an entertaining two hours of lighthearted entertainment performed by a talented cast with remarkable vocals. It needs to find the right path to complete its journey. Liberace, Sophie Tucker, Ben Siegel and Cassandra are all eminent figures that have fascinating life stories of their own and to only scratch the surface of each is a disservice to their notable careers.